The Tour de Suisse is not a sprinter-friendly race. Mark Cavendish, he of 160 career wins, has only ever won three at the Swiss event. André Greipel, who has 158 victories to his name, never won once. Peter Sagan has won 18.
The 18th, won on stage three of this year's Tour de Suisse, was one of his most impressive. The TotalEnergies rider, on just his 18th race day of an interrupted 2022 season, went incredibly early, charging to the line. It was like he would not allow anyone else to win this one, it was his. Others looked faster, especially Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) who was coming quickly behind his right shoulder, but Sagan willed the line to come quickly, ground his biggest gear, forced himself to first place.
He was clearly in the mood for success; his TotalEnergies team had been visible near the front of the race all day, controlling the break, pulling it back well in time of the line. They were confident that their Slovakian talisman had it within him to win in Grenchen, and must be delighted that he did.
A victory for Peter Sagan did not use to be noteworthy. He won three world championships back to back; he has 120 career victories; he holds the record for green jerseys at the Tour de France - seven.
However, he has just seven wins since the pandemic began. Notice the "just" there, this is only relative to the amount of winning that the puncheur used to do. He won four times last year, including a stage of the Giro d'Italia, but looked far from his rampaging best. No one wrote him off, but there was a sense that at just 32 he might be in the twilight of his career.
That might still be the case, but he can still bend a race to his will; do not be surprised if he wins or challenges once again at the Tour de France. He has 12 stage wins at that race, but even more remarkable is his 22 second places, and his 13 third places.
Speaking in November 2021, Sagan said: "I start with cycling, and I'm good at this, and I have time. When I decide I want to stop, I want to stop and never come back. But I'm still going. I am still young, right?"
The Slovakian tested positive for Covid a second time earlier this year, and missed the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix through illness. He rode Unbound last month, as he looked to regain his fitness.
“It’s hard to get back in a racing mood after my sickness and three months without racing, I just needed some time," he said post-race.
"It’s just a stage win. I’m happy for that and happy for the team. They all did a great job pulling with another team all day. In the end I just made it."
To someone with such success, it might "just" feel like a stage win, but it means more than that, his first win in nine months.
Asked if it is nice to return to winning, Sagan concluded: "Well, it’s nice to be back."
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